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UNHCR’s latest position on Libya as a safe country

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The position notes that there is political and military fragmentation in Libya. It also notes that there are armed hostilities between the Sarraj’s Government of National Accord of Libya and Haftar’s Libyan Arab Armed Foces. UNHCR also noted that armed groups are growing and there is a general climate of lawlessness and deteriorating human rights. Multiple ceasefire initiatives have been unsuccessful in curbing the conflict.

It argues that asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants transiting through or remaining in Libya are particularly vulnerable in the context of the volatile security situation across the country, general breakdown of the rule of law and government structures, and deteriorating socio-economic conditions. The majority of asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants do not have valid entry visas or access to residence permits, putting them at acute risk of arrest and detention for irregular entry or stay.

Those with a UNHCR asylum-seeker or refugee certificate do not have access to education or health services. However, access may be more likely for those who have UNHCR documents. This is dependent on the locality and authority responsible.

In all detention facilities in Libya, conditions fail to meet international standards. Conditions within the centres are “horrendous”, “cruel, inhuman and degrading”. Deaths in detention due to violence, suicide, and disease have been reported. UNHCR said both male and female asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants, including children, are routinely subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment, including rape and other forms of sexual violence, forced labour, forced recruitment and extortion.

UNHCR noted that detained persons cannot challenge the legality of their detention. Observers have expressed concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic could further exacerbate poor detention conditions, where detainees often do not have access to adequate food supplies and medical care

Lack of a central state authority has allowed Libya to become a transit country. Refugees and migrants are smuggled or trafficked via Libya’s southern border to neighbouring countries like Niger, Chad, Algeria and Sudan. They then go to Libya’s north-west from where they try to escape to Europe, mainly via Italy or Malta.

In the context of rescue at sea and in line with international maritime law, disembarkation is to occur in a predictable manner in a place of safety and in conditions that uphold respect for the human rights of those who are rescued. UNHCR therefore calls on States to refrain from returning to Libya any persons rescued at sea and to ensure their timely disembarkation in a place of safety.

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